UPDATE 1-Colombia's economy grew 1.1% in first quarter, govt says

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BOGOTA, May 15 (Reuters) – Colombia’s economy expanded 1.1% in the first quarter led by the agriculture sector, the government’s statistics agency said on Friday, falling short of the median market expectation.

Analysts had predicted growth of 1.5% during the quarter, as the economy was affected by the coronavirus shutdown that began in March.

The number is likely the country’s last positive growth figure before it enters a recession.

Analysts surveyed by Reuters this week gave a wide range of gross domestic product estimates – from 3.2% growth to a contraction of 4.8% – for the first three months of the year, saying global economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic made the figure difficult to predict.

Colombia has been in a nationwide coronavirus quarantine since March 25, while Bogota, the capital – which represents about a quarter of the Andean country’s GDP – began its lockdown several days before. The quarantine is set to end May 25.

Growth was a hearty 4.1% during January and February, DANE statistics agency chief Juan Daniel Oviedo said in a virtual press conference.

“March was a month that from the beginning was in the economic context of COVID-19,” he said. “We have a March distinct from the logical one, which had alterations both in supply and in demand.”

The agriculture sector expanded 6.8% during the first quarter, followed by electricity provision and public administration, which both expanded 3.4%.

Meanwhile, construction contracted 9.2%, the entertainment sector shrunk by 3.2% and mining by 3%.

The economy contracted 2.4% in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the fourth quarter of 2019, Oviedo said.

The economy expanded 2.9% in the first quarter of last year.

According to the median of analyst expectations, Colombia’s economy will contract 2.1% this year, an optimistic prediction in comparison to the finance ministry’s estimate for contraction of 5.5%, but in line with the 2.4% contraction predicted by the International Monetary Fund.

Analysts’ growth expectations for the year stretched from a contraction of 6.7% to a best-case scenario of 0% growth. (Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra, Julia Symmes Cobb and Carlos Vargas Editing by Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy)

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